|The Knights of St John fortress, Rhodes|
Within a year of his accession Suleiman turned his attention to the Knights of Rhodes. In 1480 Mehmed the Conqueror had failed to take the island from the Knights of St John, who had built up a powerful military base. When he first succeeded to his father’s throne the European rulers had considered Suleiman an incompetent voluptuary. After the destruction of the Knights hegemony over the island it was quite clear that Suleiman was a force in his own right.The Knights of St John attacked shipping in the eastern Mediterranean and raided the coast of Asia Minor and Syria, posing a permanent threat to the communications between Istanbul and Alexandria. The Knights had given assistance to Ghazali during his revolt. The only ruler who proffered help to the Knights was François I in a meeting with the new Grand Master of the order, de l’Isle-Adam, in June 1521; but the fleet ordered to Rhodes was diverted to Spain when war erupted in the Pyrenees.
The only other source of possible assistance for the Knights was Venice; but the Signoria agreed a treaty with the Ottomans that gave Venice enormous trading advantages. The treaty allowed them to retain Cyprus and Zante.
Following Islamic law Suleiman wrote to de l’Isle-Adam demanding the Knights surrender. On the 28th July 1522 Suleiman, landing on Rhodes, ordered the start of hostilities. Nearly two months later after continual attacks by the Turks on the fortress, on 23rd September Suleiman gave the order for a general assault for the following day. Like the many previous assaults this one was not conclusive. To date 45,000 Turkish lives had been lost.On the 1st January 1523 de l’Isle-Adam kissed Suleiman’s hand and at midnight departed Rhodes with less than 200 Knights and 1,600 soldiers. It was not until 1530 that Charles V offered the Order of the Knights of St John the island of Malta as a base[i].
Pargali Ibrahim Pasha
Pargali Ibrahim Pasha
On the 27th June 1523 Suleiman made Pargali Ibrahim Grand Vizier to the Sublime Porte. Ibrahim had been captured in a raid on his home of Parga on the Adriatic coast. He was educated at the palace school in Istanbul and became a page in Suleiman’s service, while he was Governor of Manisa.Becoming friends with the intelligent and attractive Ibrahim, Suleiman advanced him quickly through the ranks. Their friendship was very intimate, they wrote to each other when apart, taking walks and boat trips unescorted. This level of intimacy was unheard of between a slave and a sultan.
When he became sultan Suleiman made Ibrahim Chief of the Sultan’s Bedchamber, one of the most important posts in the Ottoman bureaucracy. With the post of Grand Vizier Ibrahim was now second only to his master. Ibrahim was concerned at the speed of his ascent to the top of the empire.
‘Baudier, a 17th century chronicler, tells us that Ibrahim asked the sultan not to promote him to such an important position; since he was able to live in ease and tranquillity, his services had already been adequately recompensed.’[ii]
Yet, as Grand Vizier Ibrahim accrued more power than previous post holders; Suleiman was unable to rule the vast empire alone. Ibrahim held the post of Grand Vizier for thirteen years. Only the chief of Ulema[iii] did not have to give way to Ibrahim at Friday prayers. Suleiman added to Ibrahim’s honours by making him Beylerbey[iv] of Rumelia[v]. Ibrahim built himself a sumptuous palace in Istanbul and allegedly married the Sultan’s sister[vi].Rebellion in Egypt
Ibrahim replaced Piri Pasha as Grand Vizier. The fall of Piri Pasha had been engineered by the second most senior vizier Ahmed Pasha; hoping to receive the Grand Vizier post. Ahmed realised that he would never replace Ibrahim and asked to be made Governor of Egypt, where he plotted with the Mamluks, the Pope and the Grand Master of the Knights of St John in Jerusalem. He also requested help from other quarters. While waiting for responses he had the Janissaries stationed in Cairo massacred and called himself sultan. His rebellion failed when the Mamluks and Arab chieftains turned against Ahmed and he was assassinated.A number of other rebellions in the region failed; Suleiman decided that the only way to solve the problem and pacify the inhabitants was to send his most trusted subordinate, Ibrahim, to Egypt and Syria to sort matters out. Ibrahim was absent for a year; his first stop was Syria where he reorganised the provinces.
Ibrahim arrived in Cairo surrounded by magnificence, overwhelming the tribes, who were subdued and their chiefs hanged or decapitated. Those with injustices were invited to apply for Ottoman justice and debtors were released from prison. New regulations and tax rates were imposed, with heavy penalties for those breaking the rules or abusing their authority. Checks and balances were imposed on the Beylerbey, whose authority was counterbalanced by the Beys.Trouble in Istanbul
By the time Ibrahim returned from Cairo Suleiman had put down a revolt by the Janissaries. Suleiman had left for Edirne and a rumour had swept the capital that he would be away for a long period; which would mean no military campaigns in the near future[vii]. The Janissaries had sacked the Jewish quarter and a number of palaces, including Ibrahim’s, in Istanbul.Suleiman returned to the capital and killed three of the ringleaders with his own hands. The Janissaries returned to duty and Suleiman then distributed monies among the troops and the Aga[viii] of the Janissaries and the Aga of the Sipahi[ix] were executed. Suleiman now needed to wage war to pacify his own troops.
The Ottoman Empire at WarDuring the winter of 1525-6 the army prepared to go to war; despite being unaware of the objective. Suleiman had turned his attention back to Hungary, inspired by his duty to spread the rule of Islam and his desire to create a universal monarchy. He may also have been influenced by a letter begging for assistance, from François 1[x] who had been taken prisoner by Charles V at the battle of Pavia the previous year.
Suleiman left Istanbul on 21st April 1526 at the head of his army. Ibrahim had been sent ahead to prepare the way for the Sultan and his army. Arriving at Buda a bridge had already been thrown across the Sava river and the enemy had positioned itself on the far bank of the Danube, leaving a garrison on the south bank. The garrison was quickly taken; 500 were beheaded and the remaining 300 taken into slavery.The Hungarian defenders were riddled with mutual jealousy and failed to agree on strategy. The Hungarians on the south bank of the Danube submitted to Suleiman’s army. A pontoon bridge was thrown across the river and the army crossed to the northern bank. The Hungarians were now massing at Mohacs, thirty miles south. King Louis arrived with a mere 4,000 men; then reinforcements including Poles, Germans and Bohemians brought the total up to 25,000. Many of the Hungarian nobles stayed at home, unwilling to shore up a king many of them wished to replace.
King Louis II
Louis was forced to engage the Ottomans before the arrival of supporters from Croatia and a contingent under a John Zapolya, some 40,000 men in all. On the 29th August this motley crew were crushed by the Ottoman army. Suleiman clearly apportioned much of the credit for the victory to Ibrahim.
‘The achievement of that astounding victory, tragic to the Infidels yet one of the most glorious for Islam, was due to the war-like emir, the ever prudent vizier Ibrahim Pasha, whose lance was like the beak of the falcon of vigour and whose sword, thirsty for blood, was like the claws of the lion of bravery.’[xi]On the 10th September Suleiman ordered the army’s departure and that the town and its inhabitants were not to be attacked; the order was ignored as the Janissaries required their loot. Suleiman returned to Istanbul at the end of November, leaving a single garrison at Petrovaradin; this had been a punitive expedition not a war of conquest. But the support for the Christian country of Hungary against the Infidel was telling only in its absence.
Following Suleiman’s departure the Hungarian nobility voted to enthrone John Zapolya as their king. Charles V’s brother Ferdinand also had a number of supporters amongst the nobility and he too was voted as king. With the support of his brother Ferdinand was able to throw John Zapolya out of Hungary and in December 1527 an envoy from Zapolya arrived in Istanbul. Suleiman decided to back Zapolya as king of Hungary keeping it weak, in preference to Ferdinand, who would be able to call on the resources of the Holy Roman Empire, in the form of his brother Charles.Bibliography
Suleiman the Magnificent – André Clot, Saqui Books 2012Lord of the Horizons – Jason Goodwin, Henry Holt & Co 1998
The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1997The Ottoman Empire – Patrick Kinross, Folio Society 2003
The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1991En.wikipedia.org
[i] The Knight’s fortress in Malta was captured by Napoleon in 1798 during his expedition to Egypt
[ii] Suleiman the Magnificent - Clot
[iv] Commander of Commanders
[v] The Balkan peninsula
[vi] There appears to be some doubt among recent Turkish historians that this marriage took place.
[vii] The low pay for a Janissary was supplemented during periods of war by a share of the booty, in peace time they were frequently bored with their harsh life and it was often difficult to stop them looting cities.
[x] Smuggled out in an envoy’s shoes, from his prison in Madrid.
[xi] Suleiman the Magnificent - Clot